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  • Sue Bulmer

The power of switching off

Updated: Jan 4


I've talked before about the days that don't go as well as we would have liked creatively. When we have a studio day that feels 'meh' and we dislike everything we make. This happens to me, and many other creative people I know, every now and then and it's all part of the process. I'm in the middle of a creative dip at the moment but I think that's because I have so many tech and admin jobs to do I don't have much time to paint and no active creative project I'm currently working on. That will change soon though as my to-do list gets smaller!!

Usually I take a short break, get some headspace and things then don't seem half as bad. But what happens when this is more long term hiatus and you feel you have stopped and you can't get going again or when doubts that have crept in take root and grow making us question our own ability and vision?

At times like this I always think its good to listen to yourself and what you need. When those feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and uncertainty appear and you can't shake them that's the time when it's good to totally switch off and have maybe a slightly longer break. When the tank is running on empty you need to stop and refuel, right? You've heard that saying 'you can't pour from an empty cup'? Just give yourself permission. Whether it be for a day, a weekend, a month or a year. Giving yourself what you need is key.

The other day, I was reflecting on my own journal from a few years ago when I was making and selling my illustration work. I'd had a busy few years and I was running out of creative steam and starting to burn out. I could feel myself falling out of love with the work and knew I needed a break from it. I took two years off. I hadn't realised it was this long but looking back I realise it was. I guess that's what I needed at the time.

Taking the time away was the best thing I could have done. I slowly started to feel my old self return, the embers of my enthusiasm were once again stoked and glowing and those old feelings I had so enjoyed throughout my early art career returned. As you've probably gathered I'm now feeling back to my old self, I feel re-energised by the creative challenges I'm facing and I'm loving the way I'm feeling about my business once again. I'm ready for new challenges and opportunities and ready to embrace a life with much more creativity in it!

I listen to myself more now and when I need to stop, I stop. Thanks to life experience, two years of personal therapy and a different life path I feel I'm more resilient and self-aware now. That doesn't mean these things don't crop up for me, I'm just better at listening for and noticing the signs and acting on them, giving myself what I need.

There are things we can all do to help ourselves when these negative thoughts start creeping in, things I still do to this day.

  • Look back and see how far you have come: This will help you appreciate your journey and how far you have come. I am an avid list maker so it's always great to look back at my daily, weekly or monthly achievements which have been recorded in my to-do lists and diary. Doing this gives me a very realistic interpretation of where I was at any given time, things I was dealing with and going through, and things achieved as tasks were crossed of my list. I try to make a list each year and also each month and week, which helps me to break down the bigger tasks into bite-sized chunks which are more manageable. I talk about my 2021 achievements here

  • Give yourself a break - switch off, unplug, take a holiday, go for a walk, spend more time in nature, step back. My creative sabbatical back in 2014-16 was my conscious decision to step away from my business as I was starting to really fall out of love with my work and everything I had previously loved to do. I went away in the caravan, didn't take a sketchbook with me, I started reading more, the escape of fiction giving me valuable headspace and distance from making art. It's what I needed at the time and I came back when I was good and ready. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out – pushing yourself on through times of low motivation can sometimes do more harm than good – know your limits. Even if you can spare a day away, it’s better than nothing. I talk about how I intend to live my winters in this way here.

  • Rediscover your flow and reconnect with yourself and others - Reconnecting with yourself can take many forms. It could be as simple as starting to a new hobby, writing a gratitude journal each night, meditation, meeting up with other creatives, the choices are vast, Enrolling on an online art course Find Your Joy by Louise Fletcher helped me to reconnect with myself during lockdown. It helped me to look at what inspired me, helped me to banish negative self talk and to just embrace the process without thinking about results. Talking to other creative people also really helps me. I'm now part of an amazing artist collective, a paid membership group run by Alice Sheridan which is really helping me through the next part of the creative journey. Surrounding yourself with positive and understanding people makes such a difference and can even help banish your negative feelings and pull you back up again. I've even teamed up with fellow artist, Fiona Cant, as we explore how we can work together as accountability buddies. I'm very excited to see where that leads.

  • Embrace changes: Be prepared to accept that nothing stays the same and change is inevitable. The only constant is change right? A few years after my sabbatical when I started to study for my MA in Art Therapy I began to think about my 'creative why' in a new way and engage in my creative practice on a deeper level. As a result my work has changed immeasurably from my when I first started creating and hopefully it will continue to develop, I describe it as going from black and white to all the colours. Like everything else, creativity has its ups and downs, embrace both, they are both part of the journey

Please feel free to add what works for you in the comments!!

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